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An Overview Of Capital Punishment Essay

2152 words - 9 pages

An Overview of Capital Punishment


    Capital punishment is punishment by death for committing a crime.  Since

the early 1800's most executions have resulted from convictions for murder.  The

death penalty has also been imposed for such serious crimes as armed robbery,

kidnapping, rape, and treason.  There is much disagreement about

whether or not capital punishment is effective in discouraging crime.


    In the early 1990's, 36 states of the United States had laws that permitted

the death penalty.  These laws were greatly influenced by a 1972 decision of the

Supreme Court of the United States which had banned the death penalty as it was

then imposed, describing the carrying out of the death penalty as cruel and

unusual punishment.  But the court left open the possibility that the death

penalty might be imposed for certain crimes and if it was applied according to

clear standards.


    After this decision was made, new capital punishment laws were made to

satisfy the Supreme Court's requirements.  These laws limit the death penalty to

murder and to other specified crimes that result in a person's death.  These

crimes include armed robbery, hijacking, and kidnapping.


    Many countries, including most European and Latin-American nations, have

abolished the death penalty since 1900 - including Canada, which did so in 1976.

In the early 1990's, the United States was the only Western industrialized

nation where executions still took place.




     Capital punishment was common among all ancient civilizations.  It was used

for a variety of offenses that today aren't crimes at all, like stealing the

keys to someone's wine cellar.


     There were many different methods of executions, and they all had a

barbaric quality.  Some of the more vicious methods were stoning, impaling,

boiling in oil, burned alive, and being stretched on the rack.


     One of the most notorious ways of executions was being beheaded by a

guillotine.  This machine, invented by Joseph Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814),

became the official instrument of execution in France during the French

Revolution.  It dropped a huge knife that cut off the victim's head.  It was

regarded as quick and merciful.  The guillotine was used until 1981, when

capital punishment was abolished in France.


     The death penalty was a popular method of punishment in England.

Imprisonment was hardly ever used.  In the 15th century there were eight capital

crimes:  treason , petty treason, murder, larceny, robbery, burglary, rape, and

arson.  Other crimes were soon added to the list, so that by the year 1780 there

were 350.


     Executions were common enough to require gallows in every district of

London.  Bodies were sometimes left hanging as a warning to other would-be

criminals.  If the hangman were so inclined, he might...

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